Thursday, February 26, 2004
OLYMPIA - Sunnyside area lawmakers Dan Newhouse and Bruce Chandler maintain that the Democratic-crafted supplemental budget adopted by the House of Representatives yesterday puts taxpayers at risk.
The two Republican representatives said the Democrat budget plan puts taxpayers back into a $1 billion budget hole. The Washington State House approved the supplemental budget Wednesday on a straight party-line vote, 51-45.
During the 2003 session, the state legislature adopted a bipartisan two-year operating budget that closed a $2.7 billion shortfall without general fund tax increases. This year, lawmakers worked on a supplemental budget to make adjustments for emergencies and unforeseen costs, such as increased school enrollment and prison populations.
Newhouse and Chandler, though, say the supplemental budget that was brought to the floor of the House Wednesday spends reserves down to dangerous levels.
"We're seeing a slight recovery in our economy, but everyone knows we are facing a shortfall in the next budget cycle," said Chandler (R-Granger). "Instead of using this supplemental budget as an opportunity to begin correcting the problem, they've developed a plan that makes the situation worse and puts taxpayers at risk."
The two legislators explained that the House Democrat spending plan leaves an ending balance of just $199 million in the state general fund, and would leave the state with a projected shortfall of $1 billion in the next biennium. The two lawmakers say the spending plan includes $261 million in new spending for expanded programs, offset by just $17 million in proposed cuts.
That, say Newhouse and Chandler, is a significant contrast to the more responsible budget plan passed by the Washington State Senate on Wednesday.
The Senate's supplemental budget, crafted by the GOP, increases state spending by $69 million, but leaves $399 million in the state's emergency reserve account. It also includes no new taxes and represents the slowest growing budget in state history, say Republican leaders.
"I feel we did the right thing for our jobs climate, for the elderly, for students, for low-income families and for taxpayers in general," said Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-Ridgefield), chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Zarelli points out that the Senate budget provides full funding for nursing homes and preserves community mental health funding. He also notes that the Senate budget provides a 1 percent salary increase for classified employees of school districts, and appropriates $5 million yearly in county backfill motor vehicle excise tax money.
Newhouse (R-Sunnyside) said the House Democratic plan is shortsighted and ignores the budget challenge facing lawmakers.
"We do not have the money to support this level of spending," said Newhouse. "It will force us to make drastic cuts to core services or raise taxes at a time when families and employers can least afford it.
"The looming tax burden is bad medicine for taxpayers and for our state's economy," he added.
The 2004 legislative session is scheduled to end March 11. Lawmakers from both the House and Senate will negotiate in the remaining days to work out differences in the competing budget proposals.